A Tea Party hero comes undone: Why Paul LePage's days may finally be numbered

The Maine governor has been under siege for months. Now he faces a new scandal that could end his political career

Published August 28, 2015 6:06PM (EDT)

  (AP/Robert F. Bukaty)
(AP/Robert F. Bukaty)

This article originally appeared on AlterNet.

AlterNet Maine’s angriest white guy, Tea Party Republican Gov. Paul LePage, may have finally crossed a legal line when he told a charter school to withdraw a job offer to a top Democratic political opponent or else lose a $530,000 state subsidy.

That is the issue that led the legislature’s Government Oversight Committee this summer to unanimously call for an investigation into whether LePage illegally abused his office’s authority. LePage, in what has become sadly predictable theatrics, told the panel to get lost, that they had no authority over him—and his threats cost Democratic House Speaker Mark Eves a new day job.

“If the members of the Legislature wish to ‘investigate’ the governor, they should look to the Constitution for the authority to do so,” LePage’s lawyertold the oversight committee’s chairwoman. At least six legislators did exactly that in July, believing this latest burst of bad behavior could provide a constitutional basis for impeachment proceedings.

But now the impeachment clock is starting to tick a little louder, because the oversight’s committee’s investigators are slated to present their findings in two week, at a September 8 hearing. “We’re mostly doing a timeline,” a staffer said Tuesday, saying the panel would then decide if, or whether, “to refer” the matter to the Legislature for further action.

Could this be the beginning of the end of one of America’s most notorious governors?

Plenty of politicans in Maine, as well as newspaper editorial boards, hope so. LePage’s antics and outbursts could easily fill a book that would be funny if it wasn't tragic. Just this summer, he lost a major legal fight showcasing his incompetence because his office did not veto 70 new laws he opposed—but didn’t veto soon enough to prevent them from taking effect. LePage toldlegislators he wouldn’t enforce them, however, Maine’s Supreme Court ruled that he messed up and had to enact the laws.

The fight over Democratic House Speaker Mark Eves’ offer to become the president of a charter school for disadvantaged children shows just how nasty LePage’s politics can be. Maine, like all of northern New England, has citizen legislators, people whose day jobs provide their incomes. Eves, the son of a military pastor and a teacher, is a therapist and administrator at programs for at-risk youth and struggling families. After a national serach, the board at the Good Will-Hinckley school offered Eves the job of president, which paid $150,000 a year in salary and benefits.

“The Democrat said the board told him that before his contract was terminated that LePage, a Republican, threatened to eliminate the state’s annual state funding for the school, thereby jeopardizing over $2 million in private donations that the school needed to remain open, unless it removed him from the job,” the Portland Press Herald reported, citing a federal lawsuit filed against LePage by Eves. “LePage has admitted to threatening to pull the school’s funding, saying that Eves was unqualified for the post,” the paper continued. “During a July 30 interview on WGAN radio, LePage said Eves was 'a plant, from the unions, to destroy charter schools.'"

Eves, in a Portland Press Herald commentary, said LePage sought personal revenge because he and other Democrats opposed LePage on many issues, such as the governor’s desire to eliminate the state’s income tax.

“When Gov. LePage heard the news [of my hiring], he was apparently infuriated,” Eves wrote. “In previous weeks, I had gone on the record making clear that I would not support his budget and his irresponsible plan to abolish the income tax, and neither would the House Democrats. We also had disagreements over his energy and education policies. Those passionate disagreements are a normal part of politics.”

“Acting out of what must have been personal rage, vindictiveness and partisan malice, Gov. LePage broke federal law by threatening Good Will-Hinckley — in a secret, handwritten note,” he continued. “The governor knew the state funding cuts he threatened would result in the loss of significant private dollars, forcing the school…to close.”

LePage was elected in the 2010 Tea Party wave by a 1 percent margin in a three-way race and re-elected in 2014 in another three-way contest with less than 50 percent. A 2014 state ballot question on trapping bears increasedvoter turnout in northern Maine, where conservatives largely supported LePage.

LePage’s tenure has been filled with crude outrages, such as in 2011 when he told the NAACP it could “kiss his butt” after saying he would not attend Martin Luther King Jr. Day events. He overturned a legislative ban on Bisphenol A in baby food bottles, which can trigger unwanted hormonal responses, saying, “Some women may have little beards.” He’s accused the deputy Senate Democratic leader who criticized his budget of trying to sexually assault taxpayers “without providing Vaseline.”

He’s also tried to order state employees not to talk to the Press Herald andsaid at one public event that he would like to “blow up" the paper’s building. He’s also said students should go to private schools, not public schools, if they want a good education. One of his first acts in office was ordering the removalof a large mural celebrating the state’s labor history, saying it did not show respect for corporate America.

It remains to be seen if Maine’s Legislature will initiate impeachment proceedings after the Government Oversight Committee receives its staff report on LePage’s interference with the job offer to Democratic Speaker Eves. As the Press Herald editorialized, “The state’s chief executive appears to have used public money to intimidate a private institution into firing one of his political opponents.”

But, if anything, LePage will not go quietly into the night, and Eves and other Maine Democrats must be well aware of that. It may not be a stretch to say that Eves, in his day job as a counselor to at-risk youth, has unique insights into what drives LePage and why he must be reined in. Consider this portion of WikiPedia’s biography of LePage, who managed a chain of discount stores before being elected governor in 2010:

"The eldest son of eighteen children of Theresa (née Gagnon) and Gerard LePage, both of French Canadian descent, he grew up speaking French in an impoverished home with an abusive father who was a mill worker. His father drank heavily and terrorized the children, and his mother was too intimidated to stop him. At age eleven, after his father beat him and broke his nose, he ran away from home and lived on the streets of Lewiston, seeking shelter wherever he could find it, including in horse stables and at a strip joint. After spending roughly two years homeless, he began to earn a living shining shoes, washing dishes at a café, and hauling boxes for a truck driver."

As House Speaker Eves said in a column this summer, this bully of a governor needs to stopped and disciplined.

“The time has come for someone to stand up to the illegal bullying and blackmail of the governor,” Eves wrote on August 11. “His actions stand in stark contrast to Maine’s tradition of its political leaders working together to serve the people. Our children are watching. We cannot allow our next generation to grow up thinking that blackmail and abusing power is normal or tolerated.”

By Steven Rosenfeld

Steven Rosenfeld is the editor and chief correspondent of Voting Booth, a project of the Independent Media Institute. He has reported for National Public Radio, Marketplace, and Christian Science Monitor Radio, as well as a wide range of progressive publications including Salon, AlterNet, the American Prospect, and many others.

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